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Joe Shuster Calling: An interview with Canada's Favorite Comic Book Creator, Faith Erin Hicks

Faith Erin Hicks is the creator of two critically well received webcomics, Demonology 101 and Ice.  She most recently put out the graphic novel Zombies Calling for which Hicks was just named "Favourite Canadian Comic Book Creator - English Language Publications" at this year's Joe Shuster awards.

We've covered much of Hicks' career in webcomics at ComixTalk from a review of D101 in March 2003 to interviews with her at the completion of D101 and during the start of her webcomic Ice.  She even did one of my favorite covers for ComixTalk for the April 2005 issue

Given the very recent news of her Shuster award it was great timing to catch up with her on life in Halifax, Nova Scotia and to get a few words on the new graphic novel, The War at Ellsmere, she's currently working on.

Are you in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada these days?  What's it's like up there and is there any kind of comics/creator community around?

Halifax is very nice! And yes, there's a lovely artist community here, which is one of the reasons I've stayed for so long. Most of the comics community is centred around a wonderful local comic store, Strange Adventures. They're tremendously supportive of local talent, and will often have book signings or events (they had a massive Free Comic Book Day hoopla back in May) that are a lot of fun to take part in.

Otherwise there's a few animation studios in town (I work at one of these studios), and most of the animation community knows each other, so you can usually find someone to go sketching with if that's your thing. Which is great for me, because I love abusing local coffee shops and hanging out there for hours and hours, sketching away.

 

Your current webcomic project is Ice -- how far are we into the story?

Ice is nearly done, I think. I hope! I would say it has another 20 or 30 pages to go, and then it'll be complete.

 

What's your sense of the reception for Ice versus your first webcomic Demonlogy 101?

Ice has not gained the readership D101 had, but honestly, that's okay, and to be expected. When I did D101 I was at a different place in my life, and could really commit to it, and commit to updating it consistently. I think if I could do the same with Ice, it would be more popular, but I can't (Real Life infringes). What little feedback I have gotten for it has been mostly positive, and it was nominated for a Joe Shuster Award in 2007, which was really cool.

 

I have been a big fan of Ice since the very beginning. At first I was kind of distraught at the shift from color to black and white but I've come to like that a lot too.  Which way would you do it if you were starting over from scratch?

If I had my druthers, I'd want Ice to look like Paul Pope's 100%, with the heavily inked blacks and grayscale shading. I feel that if you're creating a world that's supposed to be cold, the best way to convey that is with black and white. However, I've had quite a few people tell me how disappointed they were in the change from colour to black and white, so ... I don't know. I keep going back and forth about it...

 

I really screwed up by not asking you for a review copy of Zombies Calling but I'm sure I'll get my hands on it eventually.  The reviews I saw were good -- how do you feel about how the book has been received?

So far the feedback has been very positive, which was a huge relief. It was my very first published book, and I think it would've been pretty horrible if the reviews were bad, but I've had some lovely comments sent my way. It was nominated for a Joe Shuster Award too, which kind of proved to me that maybe the Ice nomination wasn't the result of someone drunkenly entering the wrong name on the ballot or something. It's always fantastic to be given a little recognition by your peers.

ZC also got a pretty decent little review on The Onion AV Club, which, of course, was a huge thrill. Really, there's nothing like a thumbs up from your local satirical newspaper.

 

Did you get any sense as to whether it was being read by mostly comics fans or was it breaking through to readers of that genre in general?

I couldn't really say....  I met a few readers when I had some book signings at both Strange Adventures (in Halifax) and at the excellent comic store The Beguiling (in Toronto, Ontario), and some of them seemed to be a little different from the typical comic book reader, maybe people who were more into manga or part of this new wave of graphic novels that seems to be really surging right now. I try and ask people what other books they read when they buy mine, and the responses have been pretty varied, but I didn't see much crossover between my book and those who read Batman.

 

Along those lines I have not seen it in the Barnes and Nobles or Olson near me -- does SLG have non-comic book store distribution?

I have no idea. I suspect most of the sales are coming from better comic book stores like Strange Adventures or The Beguiling. The book certainly wouldn't have sold as many copies as it has without the help of those of stores and their enthusiastic employees.

 

Back in our interview with you in 2006, you also elaborated on getting started on art relatively late in life (you mentioned getting serious about learning at 19?) -- how do you feel about the evolution of your art from D101 to Ice to Zombies?

I'm very encouraged by the evolution of my artwork. I see how far I've come from when I first started doing D101, and where I am now, as I'm working on my second graphic novel. I really owe most of my current skills to drawing 700+ pages of D101. I hope that I'll continue to improve as I keep working. That's kind of the frustrating thing about art: you'll never be good enough. There's always someone better than you. But I figure if I keep working and improving, I can learn to be content with that.

But I will say this: I am dying to someday return to D101 and rework it, with the skills I have now. I know that causes some people to shriek "George Lucas!" and cross themselves, but ... well, that's something I'd really like to do, someday. Unfortunately I'm not quite sure how to pitch that to a publisher... "See, I did this comic, and it's like a billion pages long, and now I want to TOTALLY REDO IT! And you, you lucky dog, can put it in BOOK FORM!" I think they'd throw me out on my ass.

 

Back in our interview with you in 2006 you mentioned working in animation. Are you supporting yourself through comics right now?

God no. Maybe someday, but not any time soon, I don't think. And mostly I'm fine with that. I'm a social person, and I find I can get very isolated if I'm in my apartment drawing all day.

 

If not what else are you working on these days to help pay the bills.

I work for an animation studio in Halifax called Copernicus. The work they get in is irregular, so sometimes I find myself with month-long stretches of unemployment, which is when I catch up on my comic making. I pick up freelance jobs here and there, for the local newspaper or for Canadian educational publishers. I get by. I don't think I'll ever be able to afford a BMW, though.

 

What's next for you in comics?  Are you working on anything right now?

Yep! I'm working on a new graphic novel for SLG Publishing, which should be out around December. It's called The War at Ellsmere, and is about a scholarship student entering a prestigious girls' boarding school, and the intrigue, mythology and danger she meets up with there. It has a bunch of influences, everything from the authors I used to read as a kid (Lloyd Alexander, Diana Wynne Jones) to weird stuff like supervillainy. Not to say there'll be anyone in tights, but the book did give me the chance to write a genuinely nasty female villain. I do so love villains. Anyway, I'm really excited about this book, and I hope those who enjoyed Zombies Calling will pick it up too.

Currently that's the only thing I have on my plate (other than my day job), but we'll see what the future brings. I'm just trying my best to plug along, do the best comics I can, and not over think and freak out. Which is VERY hard, because I love to over think.

Re: Joe Shuster Calling: An interview with Canada's Favorite Com

To answer the question about bookstores: Yes, we have bookstore distribution. ZC did well in bookstores (I saw it in my local Borders recently), but they just don't do the personal promotion the way a local comic store can.